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playoffs

Suwon FC vs Jeonnam Dragons Preview

Yet again the Dragons found some late dramatics midweek and took home all 3 points during a crucial stretch of games that saw them once again move up the standings. This weekend they'll make the long trip North to face off against the newly promoted (and possibly soon to be relegated) Suwon FC for their last road trip of the regular season. It's still an extremely tight race from 4th to 8th in the table, but a win would all but mathematically secure Championship Round for Jeonnam.
Jeonnam DragonsSuwon FC
DWDWWDWWLL

Competition:K-League Classic

Date:Sep 25, 2016
Game Week:Round 32
Kick-off:4:00
Venue:Suwon Civil Stadium
Oh Captain, My Captain

Late dramatics aren't overly surprising at this point in Jeonnam's season, but the 82nd minute goal scorer in a surprisingly full Gwangyang Stadium Wednesday night certainly was. In front of 8,743 spectators, captain Choi Hyo-jin headed home the lone goal of the match for his second of the season, and first in nearly three months. The celebration and Man of the Match accolades were well deserved for a man with a tireless work rate who's usually on the other end of crosses into the box. The celebration that ensued wasn't just for his game winner, but for the Dragons yet again stealing three points from a team formerly above them in the standings. Back to back home victories over Gwangju FC and Sangju Sangmu not only helped catapult them from 8th all the way to 5th within two weeks, but has also proved they're capable of performing under pressure.

Park Gi-dong

While I have faith the newly returned Park Gi-dong will settle in with Jeonnam for the stretch run and have better games, he had a night for forget Wednesday. In fairness to the 27-year-old striker, far too many passes were forced while he was in traffic or simply not in position to do anything with the ball at his feet. More concerning than Park's one game off form was the Dragons shift in tactics back to the "Stevo era" offense with wingbacks and midfielders simply lobbing the ball up to the big man and hoping for the best. The Dragons still edged out possession in the match with 52%, but it likely would've been much higher had they stuck to the pass and move offense that's worked so well in recent months. A style they almost immediately returned to when Han Chan-hee was subbed on for Park Gi-dong in the 70th minute and the team shifted from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 with Han playing just behind Jair and Ahn Yong-woo. The movement and chances created immediately improved and it was Chan-hee's presence in the box that drew two defenders and left Choi Hyo-jin enough space to find Jair's cross for the goal. I fully expect Park Gi-dong to start again this weekend, as well he should, but the Dragons should not be changing tactics from something that's worked so well for so long now.

We're Going Streaking!

The narrow victory over Sangju pushed the Dragons' unbeaten streak to five games and caps off a 13 game run that's seen them win eight times and only lose twice. They're undoubtedly peaking at the right time and will hope to carry this momentum into the Championship Round should they manage to take care of business in Suwon and vs Jeju to stay above the dividing line. However, there's a bit of a hitch in the plan as the fortress that is Gwangyang Stadium is done for the season. Jeonnam will be leaving the the cherished football-specific ground where they've won 6 of their last 7 in favor of nearby Palma Stadium in neighboring Suncheon. Gwangyang Stadium will be getting some much needed new turf (just look at the corner conditions on Choi's goal), but it'll be tough to see the Dragons leave a place where they've fostered so much success in favor of a stadium with two running tracks. Attendance will likely be better in the more populated Suncheon, but the fans will be further away and it's likely to feel a bit more like a neutral ground than a true home stadium for the boys in yellow. It'll be interesting to see how they handle the adversity after the league splits in just over a week's time.

It's A Trap!

Surely riding high emotionally after yet another late winner to push them up the table, Jeonnam's rightly feeling pretty good right about now, but they'll need to make sure they're not too confident heading into Suwon Civil Stadium this Sunday. Sure Suwon's mired in last place, have lost two in a row, and only have seven wins on the season, but that's exactly why they're dangerous. This is a team that's just two points away from 11th place Incheon and attempting to climb out of automatic relegation. They will be fighting for their lives like a cornered animal this weekend. If the Dragons head North with too large an ego thinking they'll steamroll a much weaker side, they may be heading back home with zero points and dropped back below the dividing line.

The Adversary

Suwon FC are expectedly in a relegation battle during their first ever season in the Korean top flight, but are a team with enough talent on the roster to pull themselves out of it and avoid the drop. Summer signings Kwon Yong-hyun and Bruce Djite have both had big games in Suwon's most recent wins, with none bigger than a Djite's brace in a 2-0 win vs fellow relegation-mired Incheon United. The two have given the team more potent attacking options and should continue to free up space for Lee Seung-hyun and the Spaniard Gavilán to get shots off. The offensive resurgence has stalled of late with the side only scoring once in their previous two matches, but the potential is certainly there as they showed in their 5-3 goal-fest win vs the freewheeling Jeju United. On the other side of the field this is a team that hasn't done well keeping the ball out of their own net this year. They've conceded two or more goals in 9 of their 16 home games this season, and have only held three clean sheets in Suwon Civil Stadium. Considering the Dragons have only been held scoreless once in their previous 10 matches, chances aren't great the the home side will improve that record this Sunday. If Suwon's to have a chance of winning and picking up 3 points they desperately need, they'll have to do it by the offensive signings they made this summer finding their groove again and putting a few by Lee Ho-seung.

Who To Watch

In spite of all the offensive talk, I think Suwon's other key summer signing, goalkeeper Lee Chang-keun, will be the man to watch this Sunday. As Miroslav Tramita rightly pointed out in his Round 28 Power Rankings, "Lee Chang-keun keeps them in almost every game until the last second with incredible performances between the sticks... [and] many wonder how he could have been with Busan's reserve team just two months ago!" While he's only held 3 clean sheets in his 14 starts, during Lee's reign Suwon have only had one game with more than two goals conceded and haven't lost by more than a single goal margin. They're in the conversation to avoid relegation largely because of his ability to keep games close. With the Dragons offense getting more than 5 shots on target only once in their previous five matches, they'll be up against a much stiffer test to score multiple goals than they have been in recent times.

Prediction

Don't expect this to be a prime example of "the beautiful game," but look for the Dragons to come away with a narrow victory.

Suwon FC 0-1 Jeonnam Dragons


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